Let your eyes wander over the images on the enormous and spectacular Maze Rock petroglyph panel in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument in Utah. Here we go!

About 10 miles from an Ancestral Puebloan village site called “West Bench Pueblo”, near the Arizona/Utah border, is the Maze Rock petroglyph panel. It is located in a fallen jumble of sandstone boulders, overlooking a small valley of desert scrub. It features Archaic and Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs depicting anthropomorphic, zoomorphic, and abstract designs. The writing hints at an ancient hunting ground, where bighorn, mountain lion, deer, and other game was plentiful. There is also the image of an animal that looks suspiciously like an armadillo.
The site is noted on the National Geographic map, but the trail is unmarked and undeveloped. The site is accessible by a .5 mile meander from unpaved House Rock Road to the western face of Coyote Buttes. Before viewing the panel, we wondered if the panel may have received its name from the maze-like route through sagebrush one has to traverse in order to find the site. The BLM has proposed developing a trail to diminish the erosion caused by the braided network of footpaths being imposed on the landscape by explorers trying to find Maze. My pal Jim and I were fortunate to see the panel at a time before it is separated from its natural setting by informational kiosks.
We now know that the panel received its name because it features a large and prominent image of a maze. We both have a favorite image, that of a person wearing earrings who appears to have a ladder-like insect crossing its body. Very evocative.
I am making it a lifelong study to learn humanity’s worldwide recorded symbolism and apply it to the interpretation of North American rock art. I’ve already learned too much about the pervasiveness of many of the symbols survived from deep antiquity that are still in use today to give any credence to the assumption that “nobody will ever know what these images mean”. I grant that there will always be a gap in intuitive understanding of what it was like to be the shaman who committed those images to stone, but we can generally know what their cultural and psychological reference points may have been. It is my goal to come as close as I can to accurately understanding those reference points and to do my mite to move understanding of humanity closer to enlightenment.
I am choosing one image on this panel to focus on today.  It is this:

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It appears a few times on this panel.  I apologize for the poor photographs. These are screenshots from the video. My good computer is suffering from old age right now and needs to go in for some surgery. Until then most of my vast library of photographs is being held hostage by a cranky old Mac. This was the best I could do for today, but will try to replace the images later. Watch the video above to get a better look at this petroglyph.

I propose that this image is a representation of “Tlaloc”, a goggle-eyed rain god of the Aztec tradition.  The Hohokam of Arizona represent Tlaloc with a rectangular body and eye-like circles. Sometimes he just looks like a bunch of rectangles connected by a long neck to a pair of eyeballs. He’s a goofy dude that has evolved into this simplistic petroglyph from the images below.


Tlaloc is an Aztec name, but “a rose by any other name is still” a rain god. Aztecs likely received their tradition of Tlaloc from the Maya of Central America.

The explanation of migration into Southwestern North America that I’m in favor of these days, that seems to make the most sense to me based on the similarities between cultures from Southwestern North America and Central America, is presented by Oreste Lombardi in his book Uto-Aztecan Indian Origins. After gathering a large body of oral tradition from Uto-Aztecan people of North America he has pieced together what they believe to be their own history.  Mind you, this is not the history that Euro-centric American historians gave to the Native Americans, but the history that the natives themselves, those intelligent, cognizant, cultured people were told of their own families’ histories.

In short, Lombardi explains that between the years 100 B.C. and 1 A.D. there was a period of extreme violence in Meso-America. Common folk looking for a more peaceful existence took advantage of periods of rest between wars to build ships and escape the continent. They had heard from the Olmecs that there was a land on the other side of the Sonora Desert, but to cross that desert on foot was not viable. The only escape was by boat. These refugees sailed up the the West Coast (and likely the Gulf Coast) in search of a new land. By hugging the coast they found where the Colorado River emptied into the sea. They sailed inland, past the Yuma people who were already settled at what is now the California and Arizona border. (Lombardi hints that the Yuma may be descended from the Olmecs who possibly sailed to that region a thousand years earlier.) These refugees, however, continued further inland and settled in the fertile Central Valley of Arizona where they came to be known to us as the Hohokam.

Lombardi goes on to explain more about the “seven tribes” who traveled North from Meso-America by sea, including people who missed the Colorado and sailed all the way up the California coast to become the Yurok, but I won’t go into all of that now.  I just wanted to illustrate how culture came to be shared across two continents and why it is extremely relevant to compare cultural references in shamanic art across all of the Americas.

Today’s recipient of my Pan Continental Interesting Petroglyph award is Tlaloc the rain god. What do you think? Any questions?

6 thoughts

  1. Great post and insights…I stop at the vermillion cliffs site right off the road with giant boulders every summer as we drive to/from AZ/Utah but didn’t know of that maze rock; I hope to track it down next time I am there.
    Also regarding the Meso American connections if you are the type of person to be open to all potential sources of information the Book of Mormon may be of interest to you as it validates some of the theories you mention here. (Its “another testament of Christ” used by lds/Mormons alongside the Bible but even if you’re not religious or think Mormons are crazy etc. it’s still helpful as a potential source of native Americans history). In a nutshell on the topic of migrations the book says that over time various waves of people came from the old to new world and then travelled north and to various islands, near the end of the book the “nephites” basically turn away from the Christian-eque teachings they once knew and there’s a big war and most are dead by about 600ad… except for Mormon who compiled and hides the records which were later discovered and translated into the book that now is named after him. No modern day locations are known or called out by name but each site I visit (or want to visit) I reflect on if it’s a site from the the tribes mentioned in that book…which may or may not be the case but I’m pretty sure of at least two likely direct connections to known locations.

  2. I too believe that the extent of the actual thought that the experts seem to give these images is nowhere near what it could be. If my feelings of the clear understanding of these images are correct there are two many people who don’t grasp the obvious thing of standing in there shoes at that time and standing in our shoes today and what is clearly important in those thoughts and beliefs.

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